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‘Mega-Colonies’ of Penguins Discovered in Antarctica

Finding shows remote area is a vital refuge for wildlife and should be protected, scientists say

Huge “mega-colonies” of penguins have been discovered near the Antarctic peninsula, hosting more than 1.5 million birds. Researchers say it shows the area is a vital refuge from climate change and human activities and should be protected by a vast new marine wildlife reserve currently under consideration.

photo of penguinsPhoto by Michael Polito / Louisiana State University Researchers found that the Danger Islands have 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins - more than the rest of the entire Antarctic Peninsula region combined. They include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world.

The huge numbers of Adélie penguins were found on the Danger Islands in the Weddell Sea, on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a difficult place to reach and has seldom been visited. But scientists, prompted by satellite images, mounted an expedition and used on-the-ground counts and aerial photography from drones to reveal 751,527 pairs of penguins.

The researchers then examined satellite images going back to 1959 and believe the colony has been stable over that time. In contrast, Adélie colonies to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula, where the impact of climate change and human activity are much greater, are in decline.


For the penguins of the Patagonian desert, climate change looks like too much water, too soon.

By Eric Wagner

Since the first penguin chicks hatched a couple of weeks ago, the colony at Punta Tombo has been filling with them. To a chick they are all precious, tiny and soft as they are, but handling them is more taxing than I expected.

»Read More…

“This was an incredible experience, finding and counting so many penguins,” said Tom Hart, at the University of Oxford and part of the international research team. Its report, Survey of Adélie Penguin Mega-colonies Reveals the Danger Islands as a Seabird Hotspot, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Michael Polito, at Louisiana State University and also part of the team, said: “I was amazed by the sheer number of Adélie penguins I saw. The water around the island boiled with penguins.”

Hart said: “The size of these colonies makes them regionally important and makes the case for expanding the proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) to include the Danger Islands. More than that, I think it highlights the need for better protection of the west Antarctic Peninsula, where we are seeing declines.”


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CA Court Blocks State Ag Department from Spraying Pesticides

Agency failed to adequately review impacts or provide proper notice of pesticide use, rules judge

In a win for environmental and public health advocates, a California court has halted a program that allows the state agriculture department to spray pesticides on public and private property without proper notice to the public about its intention to spray or adequate study of the possible adverse impacts of the chemicals used.

photo of pesticide spraying of treePhoto by US Department of Agriculture / Keith Weller Prior to a court order issued last week, the California agricultural department was permitted to spray 79 pesticides anywhere in the state, including schools groups, public parks, and private backyards.

The court order, which came late last week, was in response to a lawsuit brought by 11 environmental and public health groups — including the Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Biological Diversity, and Moms Advocating Sustainability — and the city of Berkeley.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program, which is supposed to control outbreaks of invasive plant pests, gave the agency the license to use 79 pesticides — including some known to cause cancer and birth defects and to be highly toxic to bees, butterflies, and other wildlife — anywhere it the state. The “anywhere” included school grounds, public parks, near organic farms, and even in private backyards.

The agriculture department uses the program to control pests such as the Asian citrus psyllid, which can infect citrus trees with a bacteria that has been wreaking havoc on citrus farms in Florida. Since the program was adopted in 2014, the agency has carried out more than 1,000 treatments across the state, sparying pesticides such as chlorpyrifos, neonicotinoids, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin, which are known for their toxicity.

The lawsuit sought to halt the program citing “far-reaching flaws in the state’s analysis of the environmental harm” caused by the use of these pesticides, and the agriculture department’s decades-long history of avoiding talking about the public health and environmental risks of the pesticides it uses by repeatedly granting itself emergency exemptions from environmental laws.

Environmental and public health activists have for years been trying to persuade the agency to shift to less toxic pest control alternatives to no avail. "The lawsuit was born out of concerns about flagrant pesticide spraying, rather than sensible pesticide policy,” says Paul Towers, spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network North America. “State officials attempted to write themselves a blank check for 30 years to use …more

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International Fishing Trawlers are Driving Up Demand for Ocean Bushmeat in West Africa

Faced with depleted fish stocks local fishermen are hunting more and more dolphins, whales, and sea turtles

Fisherfolk living along the Senegalese coast were supposed to inherit a rich and ancient livelihood. Using flat-bottomed, wooden dugout boats called pirogue, they were to head out to the seas armed with little more than a small net and the gift of knowledge and return with boats full of fish. The ocean’s bounty had been sustaining them for generations, but in the past few decades that has been changing — and it doesn’t take long to figure out what’s to blame.

fishermen unloading a boat in SenegalPhoto by Toon van DijkDue to increasingly meager catches, many traditionalist fishermen in Senegal and other countries along Africa's west coast seek out better employment in Europe or try to survive by adopting alternative livelihoods like hunting ocean bushmeat.

Where once the shores along Africa’s west coast were dotted with local fishermen’s’ small, flamboyantly-colored boats, they are now dominated by large industrial trawlers, pulling nets large enough to catch entire shoals of tuna. Every year the ships are getting bigger and bigger, now reaching capacity of over 4,000 tons of fish per trawler, whilst fish stocks for local fishermen dwindle with every passing day.

According to estimates by the Africa Progress Panel, West Africa has become a global hub of illegal fishing, losing an estimated $1.3 billion a year to the trade. Of this, around $300 million comes from illegal fishing in Senegalese waters, according to estimates by a USAID report produced in concert with the Sea Around Us. “Up to a quarter of jobs in the region are linked to fisheries, which is part of a vast intra-regional trading network in which women play a central role,” writes Caroline Kende Robb, former executive director of the high-profile think tank that advocates for sustainable development in Africa. “Apart from draining the region of revenue, overfishing reduces fish stocks, lowers local catches and harms the marine environment. It destroys communities, who lose opportunities to catch, process, and trade fish.”

Governments in West Africa, seeking an easy income, have been selling the rights to fish their waters to rich European governments, who have already decimated their own seas. While European trawlers remain the primary foreign presence in these waters, fleets from China, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan have also expanded in recent years. Together, industrial fishing vessels from these countries outperform local artisanal fishers by at least 20:1, estimates OceanCare, a Switzerland-based marine conservation group.

What’s worse is that this legally-sanctioned activity …more

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New Agreement Could Help Environmental Defenders in Latin America, Caribbean

If ratified, regional accord would require nations to promote the rights of environmental activists and prevent attacks against them

In a colorful town nestled between Colombia’s rolling hills, Isabel Zuleta speaks to a crowd of 100 people. The police stand behind them dressed in army fatigue, listening to Zuleta talk about the community’s right to water, their concerns about damming the Cauca river they rely on for fishing and other needs, and the floods they’re grappling with from the hydroelectric Hidroituango dam. Many fear that government officials are ignoring their concerns and requests for compensation.

photo of berta caceresPhoto by Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos Demonstators hold an image of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental defender murdered in 2016. If ratified, a new agreement known as LAC P10 could help protect environmental defenders in Latin America.

Although this rally and many other demonstrations Zuleta has held have ended peacefully, her work is not without conflict. As leader of Movimiento Rios Vivos, a group dedicated to protecting Colombia’s rivers, she regularly holds public forums to voice communities’ concerns about dams and mines, lobbies the government to release information about projects’ effects on rivers, and leads non-violent protests. She’s received numerous death threats in response to her advocacy. Other Movimiento Rios Vivos members have faced smear campaigns, harassment and surveillance. Two activists in the group were murdered a few years ago.

Violence against environmental defenders runs rampant not only in Colombia, which is among the three countries with the highest number of defender killings, but around the world. In 2017, almost four environmental defenders were killed each week for protecting their land, wildlife and natural resources. Latin America is the most dangerous region, with more than 60 percent of defender deaths in 2016 occurring in its remote villages or deep within its rainforests. Threats against defenders are also on the rise across the Caribbean.

But an agreement being negotiated this week could help.

From February 28, 2018 to March 4, 2018 in Costa Rica, countries and civil society groups are negotiating the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as LAC P10. If adopted as a legally binding agreement, it would require governments to set new standards to achieve Principle 10, known as the environmental democracy principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. These legally binding provisions would improve people’s access to environmental information (such as water pollution data or mining concessions details), strengthen their ability to participate in environmental decision-making, and help them hold powerful interests to account for harming communities and …more

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Natural Pest Control Method Taking Flight

Farmers from Israel to California are embracing barn owls over toxic rodenticides

A recent study linking fatalities of California’s endangered northern spotted owl to rodenticide poisoning on marijuana farms reignited the flaming debate about the use of chemical agents in agriculture. Yet as discussion rages on, farmers elsewhere are using owls as a pest control solution, hopefully preventing them from becoming pest control victims. And the idea seems to be taking off.

photo of barn owl boxPhoto by Bill Gracey A mature barn owl delivers food to a young owl nesting in an owl box. Barn owls are cavity nesters, meaning they nest in places like hollow trees, open buildings, and nest boxes.

Most farmers use rodenticides to minimize the damage that rodents can cause to crops, but it is no secret that these chemicals can have unintended effects, such as the secondary poisoning of non-target species. As a result, some people have attempted to find other ways of keeping pests at bay, including by attracting barn owls to fields to prey on rodents.

Using barn owls as a form of biological pest control is certainly not a novel idea. First developed as a pest control technique through Malaysian studies in the 1970s, the idea truly took flight in Israel in 1981 when local researchers and farmers decided to test it out at Kibbutz Neot Mordechai, an agricultural community in the Hula Valley. Led by the Society for the Protection of Nature, the Nature and Parks Authority, three keen researchers, and some local farmers, this project saw the installation of eight barn owl boxes, three of which were occupied within a year. (Barn owls are drawn to boxes as nesting sites.) However, like most scientific experimentation, the trial did not come without complications. A pioneering young nature conservationist with the Society for the Protection for Nature, Yehuda Weiss, who played a pivotal role in the research, was killed in action in Lebanon when war later broke out in June 1982, bringing the vital work in this area to a halt.

This did not deter the researchers and farmers involved. Confident in the efficacy of the method following the trial and resulting nestbox occupation, they relaunched their project the following year in Israel’s Beit Shean Valley. Three decades later, and following plenty of ups and downs, between 3,500 and 4,000 owl boxes have been erected across Israel by open-minded farmers willing to give this method a try. The growing interest in natural pest control methods has spurred several related …more

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Washing Away

The disappearing islands of Chesapeake Bay

Imagine, if you will, sailing along the eastern Chesapeake, searching for your next port when a solitary wooden house appears before you. It is covered in cormorants with waves splashing into the windows. Odd, you think, what is that doing out here and who would live in a place like that?

photo of Holland IslandPhoto by Forgemind ArchiMedia, Flickr A single house was all that remained of Holland Island in Chesapeake Bay. The house burned in 2010, and its remains are now submerged.

A quick check of the chart that day in the early aughts revealed nothing there but a tiny spit of land; no more than an oyster reef in the middle of the bay. We could only speculate about the purpose of the ghost structure — perhaps it was an abandoned lighthouse or a fish camp.

I was shocked to learn later that we had been looking at the last remnant of Holland Island, once a large community of farmers and fishermen who lived on the island until it eroded away to the point where it was abandoned in 1922. The buildings there had either been removed or washed away — with the exception of this last wraith.

The fact that the house remained was due to the heroic efforts of Stephen White, a retired Methodist minister who purchased the disintegrating island in 1995 and spent thousands on sunken barges and levees in a vain attempt to save the place he had loved as a boy. But his efforts only delayed the inevitable: In 2010 he capitulated by putting a match to the house and sailed away. Today all that remains of the town, the church, and the cemetery is a shallow spot on Google Earth.

The day we first sailed by that house the term “global climate change” was unknown to me. We carried on down the East Coast to our new home in Florida, and didn’t return to the bay until summer 2017 — again in a boat.

The Chesapeake has always been prone to what is now called nuisance flooding. Bi-weekly spring tides and nor’easters inundate docks, roads, and parking lots. Islands like Holland have been washing away for thousands of years. Thirteen have vanished from charts since English settlement in 1607. To an extent, it’s part of the character of the bay, something the people here have been able to accommodate.

But our return last summer showed us a bay that’s undergoing drastic and …more

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We’re Not Individuals, We’re Colonies

Our existence is part of a continuum shared by many other beings that exist outside our bodies

It has taken a long time for biology and medicine to arrive at the idea that significant portions of an individual’s own body are foreign to it. Now, however, microbiology in particular is discovering that there is no reposing, solid core within us, but rather a lurking void around which life’s dance unfurls. In the human body, thousands of different players make the meaningful whole possible. We know that our body is colonized by microbes, particularly in the gut, which perform metabolic processes essential to our lives. Within our body, we carry our own, developed eco­system without which we could not break down and digest food. There is a reason that biologists call the “biofilm” of microorganisms that cover moist surfaces, “bacterial lawns.” With hundreds of species entangled on them — consuming, eliminating, extracting, and synthesizing matter — these bacterial lawns, like the Ligurian pastures, have the characteristic of an undulating meadow in the spring, inside of us. No wonder we have a feeling of recollection on such evenings.

photo of wildflower meadowPhoto by Alison Day"The meadow is a part of our body, folded outward, ready to be strolled through," Weber writes in Matter & Desire.

In this age of advanced gene technology, the true abyss of renunciation from which we speak “I” is only now becoming obvious to us. For only a few years, it has been clear that bacteria are completely dominant in a healthy human being: On top of our 10 billion body cells, there are 100 billion microbial cells that play a role in our metabolism. This enormously increases the options for our bodily processes: If we include the microbes’ genes, then we have over 100,000 genes at our disposal, as opposed to just over 20,000.This sort of bacterial aid leads, for example, to children in Papua New Guinea being born with nitrogen-fixing bacteria (like those found in some plants and algae) in their intestinal tissues. This allows them to subsist for years on a plant-based diet without suffering from symptoms of deficiency.

From this, the American microbiologist Bruce Birren concludes that, “We’re not individuals, we’re colonies.” And these colonies develop sensitivities collectively: The type of bacterial ecosystem that lines the intestine will partly determine how successfully we absorb nutrients. Patients with a tendency toward obesity have particularly efficient bacte­ria. From a bite of cracker they are able to extract all of the nourishment that simply slides unabsorbed through the digestive tract of slender types. …more

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